Friday, July 10, 2015

Elephant and Castle, London, Anglophile Friday

There's an area of London, ESE across the river from Buckingham Palace, that's named 'Elephant and Castle.'

What does it mean??

I wondered too.

After all, most of the Tube stations have names like 'Westminster,' 'St. James's Park,' 'Notting Hill Gate,' 'Oxford Circus,' 'Bank,' etc.  'Elephant and Castle' stuck out like a sore thumb. I needed to know the origin of that unusual name.

So, I turned to the internet, because it's what we do when we have a question, isn't it!

Here are a few answers I found on Yahoo Answers...because you can't take everything you find on Wikipedia as gospel, you know.  ;-)

Explanation #1:

"The name of the area derives from a pub of the same name in the area. The earliest surviving record of the pub's name is in the Court Leet Book of the Manor of Walworth. The court had met at "Elephant and Castle, Newington" on 21 March 1765. An external sign displayed in 2006 asserts that the pub was rebuilt in 1816 and 1898, although the present building, that offers budget accommodation on upper floors, appears to be of mid-20th Century construction."

Explanation #2:

"The name itself predates this account. Apocryphally, it is a corruption of the Spanish Infanta de Castile, meaning the eldest daughter of a monarch, who had supposedly landed by Royal Barge in Newington (renamed Elephant and Castle in honour of Catherine) sometime during 1501, as the betrothed to Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother who died leaving Catherine a widow."

Catherine of Aragon

Explanation #3:

"Another explanation is that the land belonged to the Cutlers' Company, who had an elephant and a castle on their coat of arms. The elephant referred to the ivory used to make handles for expensive cutlery." 

Explanation #4:

"The elephant and castle symbol was also used in a trade that made a far more important contribution to the London economy. It was the symbol of the Royal African Company, a group of slave-traders headed by the Stuart royal family when it retook the throne in 1660. Between the 1660s and the 1720s the company's symbol was used on British guinea coins to indicate that the source of the gold was the company's activity in Africa." 

Tower of London

Explanation #5:
"The origin of the term Elephant and Castle could relate to the king's menagerie located at the Tower of London. Over the centuries various gifts were given to the monarch by visiting foreign dignitaries. Many of these gifts came with four legs and included lion, tigers, and the most regal gift of all, an elephant. It's understood that the elephant swam in the Thames and was tethered by a chain to stop it swimming away.
In the mid 1800's the animals were relocated to the new London zoo at Regent's park.  The only creatures at the Tower, were of course the Ravens, who, let's hope never leave if the old superstition is to be believed! The Castle?---- Well, the Tower of London itself. London's own castle."

Explanation #6: (My personal favorite)

And this one is from Michael Quinion's World Wide Words:

First, he debunks the 'infanta' idea:

 "’s often asserted that the name is a corruption of Infanta de Castile, usually said to be a reference to Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I (in Spain and Portugal, the infanta was the eldest daughter of the monarch without a claim to the throne). That would put Elephant and Castle in the same class of pub name as Goat and Compasses but, like the story of the way that name came into being, it’s almost certainly false.

"Not the least of the problems is that Eleanor of Castile wasn’t an infanta (or at least wasn’t known as that — the term only appeared in English about 1600); the one infanta that the British have heard about from school history lessons is Maria, a daughter of Philip III of Spain, who was once controversially engaged to Charles I. But she had no connection with Castile. The form Infanta de Castile seems to be a conflation of vague memories of two Iberian royal women separated by 300 years."

SO.....this seems like the most likely explanation, again quoting Michael Quinion's World Wide Words:

"The castle here is actually a howdah on the back of the elephant, in India a seat traditionally used by hunters. The public house called the Elephant and Castle was converted about 1760 from a smithy that had had the same name and sign. This had connections with the Cutlers’ Company, a London craft guild founded in the 13th century which represented workers who made knives, scissors, surgical instruments and the like. The guild used the same emblem. The link here is the Indian elephant ivory used for knife handles, in which the Cutlers’ Company dealt. [like explanation #3]The real story here is actually rather more interesting than the one usually told, but a lot more British people have heard of an infanta from history lessons than know about the medieval emblem of a trade guild."

Now aren't you glad you asked!


This post might possibly be linked to one of more of the following:

Mosaic Monday and Roses of Inspiration and  Treasure Box Tuesday and Tuesday with a Twist  and  Tweak it Tuesday  and  Good Fences and  Freedom Fridays  and  Saturday Critters and  Vintage Inspiration Friday  

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Have a great weekend, everyone!


Denise said...


eileeninmd said...

Good Morning, what a great post! Elephant and Castle is an interesting name for a tube station and a pub! I loved the images, enjoy your weekend!

eileeninmd said...

Good Morning, what a great post! Elephant and Castle is an interesting name for a tube station and a pub! I loved the images, enjoy your weekend!

Pamela Gordon said...

Very interesting! Great research on that unusual name.

Blogoratti said...

That's quite interesting, I had also wondered about the origins of the name. Now I have learned something new, thanks for sharing that!

The Cranky said...

Actually, I am glad I asked... love historical tidbits of that nature. You fabulous researcher, you!

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

I appreciate you the time to research this for us and I find it fascinating information. MAny thanks for your trouble.

Linda Kay said...

How funny that there are so many stories about the elephant, but it is rather an unsightly image, isn't it? Anyway, great that you have done the research and have decided on the "right" explanation in your search. Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read the different explanations and I do love the photos.
Wishing you a blessed weekend.

Sandra said...

OH MY, you have just destroyed my faith in Google Search and all other Searches... I am going to choose to believe number 5.... just because....

TexWisGirl said...

clear as mud. :)

Tired Teacher said...

Love the photos and the wide range of explanations.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Very interesting and thanks for all the research. My husband is outside of London right now and I so want to be there with him! Have a nice weekend.

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

Brilliant work, Judy! My what interesting explanations! The thought of an elephant swimming in the Thames--WOW--I will have that picture in my mind for a while. Have a great weekend. ♥

podso said...

So which is your choice to believe? I totally prefer the lower pic of the elephant than the red one, but you sure can't miss the red!

This N That said...

Interesting..I guess we can just pick the one we like..

Heide at ApronHistory said...

I guess things are liable to get muddled in the last three hundred years. Especially since we can't even remember what happened yesterday! Fascinating post!

Sandi said...

I like it, whatever the true story is!

SImple and Serene Living said...

How fun, Judy. I love all of the explanations. xo Laura

Vee said...

I don't like any of those explanations so will make up my own. =D

As I have mentioned before, Britain has entirely too much history. After reading this, I have to wonder how much of it was made up out of whole cloth. No closure here, Judy, but a great try!

carrie@northwoods scrapbook said...

Wow - love it!! How interesting! The history over there is just amazing. You just continue my NEED to go there one day. Thanks for sharing and all the great photos!
happy weekend to you Judy. xo

Judy S. said...

Interesting post!

Judith @ Lavender Cottage said...

Good heavens, so many theories...guess it depends on who you talk to. Interesting information that you found on the area.

21 Wits said...

Totally happy I did! Hehehe! What an enjoyable collection of possibilities too! I should have seen this when I was there, but I'd surely take photos my mother being such an elephant fan. I'll have to ask my daughter if she knows anything about this place. You always post clever tidbits! Enjoy your weekend.

Carla from The River said...

Fun post. I like how you added all the ideas. :-) Now I would like you to add Mr. C's theory. :-)))
Have a great weekend.

Deborah Montgomery said...

I, too, am fascinated with an elephant swimming in the Thames!

Cheryl @ TFD said...

That is an interesting name for the station, but more interesting are all the different explanations of the name! :) I'm off now to catch up on posts I've missed.
Have a nice weekend!

Unknown said...

There's a pub in Ottawa called the Elephant & Castle that John said was named for a pub in England - wait till I give him all of this information LOL !!!
Fun post Judy !

Debbie said...

hehehehe...can't we all just agree!! well, it was an interesting read and there is nothing like a pink elephant to grab our attention!!

i google everything, everything. i pick one answer and go with that!!!

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

Well, Lucy the Margate elephant is only 132 years old, Judy, but you should come see!

:) m & jb

( I notice you mention a... uh... g o a t in your post...)

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Well, I'm very impressed. Great post, CM! I always thought it was something to do with a pub, but that could just be the way my mind works. I used to work not far from Elephant & Castle; in those days, it was an area where some caution was occasionally needed, particularly at night. And it is dominated by a hideously busy traffic roundabout that can turn the blood of a novice driver to water.

Terri D said...

My first response, as I read your post, was "OH MY" then I saw that several others had a similar response! Quite interesting, actually!

Stephanie said...

Well, this was certainly interesting, my dear Judy :) Thanks so much for sharing. Have a blessed Sunday. Hugs!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Oh it is always so good to get that one clear and definitive answer ;>)! We enjoyed visiting this area and I can still hear the accent of the guy we asked (our bartender when we stopped for a cold one) and I appreciated his pretending that I wasn't boring him to death). He said pretty much what your favorite answer was so that is definitely the one I believe! Loved the pictures and thanks for the memories. Enjoyed the post above also!


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